An Ordinary Meeting
Characters: Inspector Lestrade, Dr. Watson, Gregson; Mrs. Hudson
Summary: Lestrade meets the man mad enough to room with Sherlock Holmes
There was a reason why Sherlock Holmes grudgingly referred to Inspector Lestrade as "the best of professionals."
After Holmes moved to his admittedly better rooms on Baker Street, Lestrade's first reaction was to give a private little groan. He still ached from the Break-bone fever that had wasted a good third of the Force, and it was too early to be back on his feet. Holmes' old lodgings at least had the convenience of a respectable tavern where he could pause afterwards, and wash the taste of being outdone by the amateur in a gill of the best grozet in London. His mother had always sworn by a regular dose of grozet to chase away the ills in the arteries—she wouldn't have thought it would be her son's salvation as an ulcer preventative.
But—Baker Street was in the opposite direction from the Malmsy Keg, and Lestrade had a very soldierly attitude to the lots life had thrown him. He would just have to find another, equally comfortable shift in his life.
And so he began paying his calls to Sherlock Holmes, private consulting detective and bona fide slight madman.
The first time he came to Baker Street, the housekeeper showed herself to be a stamp above the last, slightly boozy matron off Montague. A proper lady, Lestrade was glad to doff his hat to someone who could pay him the respect of looking him in the eye—and he had a feeling her cooking would be trusted.
"Mind you to always knock before you go up, sir." She told him kindly. "Mr. Holmes is an excitable enough fellow."
"You don't say, Mrs. Hudson." Lestrade's acting skills were largely underappreciated.
"And then of course, there's the poor doctor."
Lestrade's arm locked up in the act of hanging the hat on the rack. He's completely gone mad, then, was his first thought. Holmes has finally finished due process of mental law.
"Yes, a good young man, and a decent lodger, but his nerves have been shattered, Inspector." Mrs. Hudson skewered him with her eyebrows. "Maiwand."
Lestrade was shocked. "Maiwand?" He breathed.
"Aye, sir. Wounded rather badly, and took the fever on the way home. Please do be so kind and do nothing that would upset him." Mrs. Hudson took his coat with the casual efficiency of those who know their own business better than anyone else's. "Shall I bring you a cup of tea? I was going to bring a tray up."
"Well…thank you, that would be most kind." Lestrade's thoughts swirled like dry leaves in the gutter. Good God, Sherlock Holmes had a roommate—and a war veteran at that?? He didn't know which portion was more unbelievable. There's a relationship that will end in tears!
He paused at the open door and saw the long legs propped on the ottoman before the rest of him. He knew at a glance this was not the whipcord, skeletal energy of Holmes. A step further and the man glanced up from his reading with a pleasant smile.
Completely ordinary looking, Lestrade felt a strange relief, as if someone had to have some tangible abnormal quality to prove their desire to spend more than two hours with Sherlock Holmes. Come to think of it, that's the most ordinary-looking man I've ever seen. He's all shades of brown--hair, eyes, skin, shoes and clothes! He could be a model for the everyman in the Strand.
"Good-afternoon. May I help you, sir?"
"Good-afternoon. I am here to see Sherlock Holmes."
The man quirked a thick eyebrow up like a gun being cocked back. Scottish. Lestrade thought. No other race in the world can produce such thick hair on the face. "I'm afraid he's stepped out for a bit, but he might come back soon. Would you like a cup of tea while you're waiting?"
"Thank you, your housekeeper has already offered." Lestrade took a glance in the room and noted the walls ruefully. "I see it didn't take him long…" He muttered under his breath.
The man had heard. "I can't imagine what his rooms were like off Montague Street." He confessed. He put his book aside and leaned forward to offer his hand. "Dr. John Watson at your service."
"And Geoffrey Lestrade to yours." The hand was bone-thin but firm, a short-lived strength until he recovered his natural reserves. Lestrade knew for himself that that particular leanness was unnatural. This body should be bigger and broader; he didn't carry himself with the kind of power a small man had. Though the face was friendly enough, open as a bowl, it was because of confidence in himself, and not from a vapid lack of character. There was a look to his eyes, though, that any man on the Force would recognize: Eyes of a veteran. Eyes of nightmares and walking ghosts. The recognition went both ways, Watson seeing Lestrade knew, and knowing Lestrade was a similar victim in his mind. It drove Lestrade to look away and around the walls again. "I say, did he leave you any room for your belongings?
Watson threw back his head with a laugh. "I came with nothing to speak of." He chuckled. "Save my life and most of my health." Humor glittered in those dark brown eyes although that was the healthiest part of him. "And a few vices, which I intend to give my full intention once I'm back on my figurative feet."
Lestrade chuckled softly. "I can understand that. I'm still laboring under the latest epidemic of London. A part of me can barely believe I'm out and about."
"Are you certain you should be?" Watson tilted his head to one side thoughtfully. "If you don't mind my saying so, and you are an improvement over my own self."
"That's a fine way of putting it, but yes. My work makes no allowance for such things as a three-week holiday."
"Ah." Watson's face was rueful. "If it weren't for the wound pension holding penury right at bay, I'd be saying the same." He shrugged. "Not that there's much call for a physician who is sick!" He lifted that wry eyebrow again. "I used to teach the finer points of handguns to men going into Infantry…somehow I think that would not inspire confidence in my abilities as a surgeon either." He accepted it philosophically.
Scottish without a doubt, Lestrade thought. They're as eloquently ironic as the Irish, but--thank God--stoic as the figurative stone. I don't think I could bear an Irishman in the same room as Holmes.
"Well if you must be about, keep drinking fluids. Water if you trust in its cleanliness; broth, juice—stay away from milk in all forms for now. That could just make it worse." Watson had found Ship's tobacco and began packing away a methodical blackthorn pipe.
"I thought milk was supposed to be good for what ailed." Lestrade blinked.
Watson winced slightly as he put the tobacco on the table--or perhaps it was the strain on a stiff shoulder as he pushed aside a small box of bullets? "The last thing a sick man needs is more mucus."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with that—unless you tell me I have to foreswear my evening pint. Then we'll have words and I'll take back my fee."
Watson grinned at him, and despite the fact Lestrade thought he was dreadfully young to be a doctor, much less a wounded veteran, he was struck by the core of strength glimpsed inside.
"Be sensible in your pints, sir. Elderberry ale would be best in your condition."
"Never heard of it." Lestrade confessed. "I'm a Grozet man myself."
"Then you should have no sacrifice of your morales." Watson blew smoke—not easy to do because he was still smiling. "It's a heather brew of elderberry fruit and flower. There's nothing better for getting the immune system going—naturally I'd recommend a tincture or a syrup, but I've found ale goes down a bit fairer." His lips twitched. "And it's one-twentieth the price."
Lestrade's first experience with Dr. Watson was hardly memorable—but then, most beginnings are ordinary.
Lestrade glared up at his much-larger rival without his usual strength. "Yes. Yes they do hurt, Tobias. I've recovered from the very same illness you have, and I happen to still be hurting all over, but I'm glad you remembered my feet."
Tobias Gregson chuckled and folded up his newspaper.
"What the devil has you in such a good mood anyway?" Lestrade asked suspiciously.
"Funniest thing you heard all week." Gregson promised.
Lestrade had his instant doubts: for one thing, Gregson might be smarter than Lestrade, but his sense of humor was often a wholly different language to Lestrade's thinking. There were things that set Gregson off that Lestrade couldn't even fathom.
And for another, there were times when Lestrade comprehended Gregson's humor--and disagreed with it.
Gregson cleared his throat and looked both ways. Of course everyone in the Yard stopped pretending not to listen and angled in.
"Sherlock Holmes has a roommate!"
Lestrade's overtaxed nerves cringed at the roar of laughter that washed over the cold walls like a wave against Cornwall.
"Oh, sweet Marigolds in June!" Bradstreet wiped his eyes as he struggled for his breath. "That's the ripest—"He sputtered into laughter again.
"I know! Where in God's name did he find him?" Gregson was leaning on the desk for strength. "How in God's name did he find him?"
"You can't be serious, sir!" Constable Alfreds was appalled at the thought. "Sherlock Holmes likes people about as much as Martin Luther liked women!"
"I think Luther liked women more than Holmes does!" A wag chipped in. "But didn't he have boils?"
Lestrade shook his head and resolutely tried to concentrate on his reading. The problem with being on a forgery case—you inevitably started looking for forgery in everything, and that included the newspaper type you were reading.
"…your turn, Lestrade!"
Lestrade scowled at the finger Gregson had poked into him. "My turn for what?" He stared suspiciously at the hat full of loose coins and small pound-notes.
"We're opening the betting pool on Holmes." Bayard said simply. "Most of us are giving him a month to drive the doctor out."
"A month?" Lestrade repeated. He wasn't certain he'd heard correctly. "Are you mad?"
"Well, we've thought it out." Bradstreet added. "It's not like the doctor can just pick up and move because he feels like it. He's got to find another place to live first."
"And he's new to London, that's certain." Gregson pointed out with that cool, infuriating way he had—it reminded Lestrade in some way of Holmes, but worse—Lestrade didn't have to see Holmes every day of the week; Gregson he did. "The man got stiffed by a cabbie because he didn't know the straight way from St. Bart's."
Lestrade watched, amazed as the points were ticked off on fingers: Dr. Watson was a veteran and couldn't stand excitement. He was crippled and surely couldn't get around well. He was clearly ignorant and innocent of the kind of monster Holmes was, and he wouldn't have roomed with him had he known.
Lestrade took it all in with silence, and wondered why that familiar feeling in his gut was coming back. Holmes could take all the teasing and mockery six ways from Sunday—he didn't need defending.
Because they're selling the other man short, Lestrade realized. They're judging him by association. Now how many times have I scolded them for that? Sloppy detective work for certain! Lestrade's blood was far from boiling, but it was threatening to simmer. "Where there's smoke there's fire" was all good enough when one was a fire-fighter, but not when one was trying to untangle the knots of human nature. Assumptions and their consequence.
He stabbed his papers down on the desk and stood up, the violence of his move startling the others. He reached into his pockets. 'All right, I'm in. Who's in charge of the points?"
"Charlie, put me down that Dr. Watson is going to stay with Holmes."
"Gorblimey." Charlie shook his head in wonder but dutifully chalked the lines in. "How much are you in for?"
"Five pounds." Lestrade snapped.
It was worth it, he thought in a mean satisfaction—to see their reactions. Gregson looked ready to swallow his cigar.
"Shouldn't you be back in bed?" Gregson demanded.
Lestrade knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't resist smirking at him. "Perhaps I know something you don't."
Gregson scowled. "And what would that be?"
"It just so happens, I've met the good doctor just yesterday." He smirked as he dropped the money in. "And Dr. Watson," he dropped the last handful of half-crowns into the hat, "keeps a loaded firearm."